Shardbound Tactical CCG Announced – Interview with Caleb Epps

A brand new kind of tactical PVP
shardbound key art

Spiritwalk Games just launched a Kickstarter campaign for its tactical collectible card game, Shardbound, and we sat down with audio director Caleb Epps to learn more about the game and the goals of the campaign.  Shardbound is a Tactical CCG for PC that combines board-based tactical gameplay with the depth of content found in collectible card games. The core of the game is a competitive 1v1 PvP experience which we’ve wrapped in an innovative social metagame that not only allows players to have fun with their friends, but also provides streamers and their viewers exciting new ways to interact and play together on Twitch. It all sounds really groovy, so read on for the info from Caleb Epps.

Shardbound Tactical CCG Announced – Interview with Caleb Epps

GameSpace: Many of our readers will be hearing about Shardbound for the first time today, so let’s start with something simple: what is Shardbound?

Caleb Epps: Shardbound is a tactics CCG. You see a few other games like that in the space, games like Duelyst and things like that. Our game is sort of tipping towards more of the tactics end of the spectrum. We wanted to maintain the things we love about tactics, positioning, line of sight, terrain manipulation, and bring that into the incredible amount of combinatorics you can have in a collectible card game.

We’re taking the sort of mechanics of a tactics game and then adding onto it all these different units that all do different things and the concept of building sort of armies or decks and seeing how all those different units combine. That’s the sort of thing that was really exciting to us, was taking those two aspects of those two genres that we really love.

This is the intro video used by Shardbound to rally folks to their Kickstarter

GameSpace: Can you tell us a bit about the team? I know some of you guys worked on Dawngate over at EA. How has that experience informed your approach to Shardbound?

Caleb: Something that we realize through the course of making Dawngate was really the power that Twitch had to build communities. We were out there as really like the only studios, maybe the only studio inside of EA, that was directly connecting with our community. Live streaming all the time, making ourselves available to our community, to talk about anything. People could reach out and say, “Eh. I don’t really like this character’s sound effect.” And I could be like, “OK, well let’s have a chat about it.” And we realized that aspect of community development and having a really close relationship and a working relationship with our community was super important to us.

The other side of that is most of the way we rose awareness around Dawngate was through live streaming the game and through Twitch. That’s where the community really, for Dawngate, really flourished and built itself, is around a community of streamers, as well as on Reddit, of course. When we founded Spiritwalk, the sort of core idea, was let’s make a game that’s really about Twitch and about live streaming and about tailoring a game to making the game easy to live stream and fun to watch, but also to do some things inside of the game that live streamers were doing through exterior tools. Or just building a system that allowed us to help live streamers raise up the level of their content the way they were engaging with their communities, and just sort of give that to everybody who’s live streaming.

Shardbound Gameplay Screen

So we brought in a bunch of the best of the best live streamers. We brought in Trump from the Hearthstone community, we had Day9 come in, we have Strippin and Dodger come in, and talk with us about what their experience was. We noticed that some live streamers just wanted to ladder, but interact with their community by sharing their decks with them, or for laughs take user created decks. We can do that and we can do it for everybody, rather than having to have people rely on tools, or rely on realizing that was an engaging thing for a lot of streamers to do with their fans. We just sort of took all that stuff that we noticed was happening on the edges of the Twitch ecosystem and also some ideas that we came up with ourselves, and we just kind of like mushed it into the game. But we tried to do that in a way that allowed the game to stay competitive, and stay balanced, and available to be played competitively in a really serious way.

GameSpace: Inevitably, there will be comparisons to other tactics CCG games on the market such as Duelyst or SMITE Tactics, so what is it about Shardbound that you feel sets the game apart from the rest?

Caleb: I’d say there are a few different angles that people can get into Shardbound.

One, is that stylistically and aesthetically, the game looks rad. So that’s a way you can kind of get into it.

You can also get into it via having a way to interact with somebody you’re into watching streaming. I was looking at, and this makes me sound cold and business-y, but, I was looking at a data report the other day that came out that says 86% of CCG players watch people streaming. So, I think having a way to push the communities that people are already a part of on Twitch into your game and earn rep with the streamer, and help them get loot while you also get loot, sort of participating in the communities you’re already part of through playing Shardbound, is another way you can get hooked on the game.

I also think that mechanically the game has more nuance and more depth to offer than some of the other competitors in the space. Our game has different maps, which really sort of change the course of play. Some maps may favor more ranged units vs. melee units. Some maps end up favoring taking a slower ramp, rather than playing aggro.

I think that there’s a little bit more nuance and texture to playing Shardbound, that allows players to express their skill in different ways, rather than just sort of lining things up on a board and mashing them into each other and seeing what wins, there’s a lot more nuance to the decision making. There maybe isn’t always an exact clear best choice, but there are options, and there are ways to pursue longer range strategies via the choices that you make via positioning, and leveraging the maps and their terrain, and sort of taking advantage of that, and using it to crush your opponent.

Shardbound Factions

Shardbound and Terrain and Line of Sight

GameSpace: So, line of sight matters, terrain matters?

Caleb: Yeah. Line of sight is huge, and obviously that plays into the game having multiple maps. Different maps have different line of sight. It’s a combination of line of sight, high ground (and consequently low ground), and terrain manipulation. Those are the three core things that we’re taking from tactics and bringing into this space that other games are not doing. That’s why I say our game is more tactics-y and veers more towards tactics than other games.

When we started out, when we first sort of brainstorming, talking about how much we loved Final Fantasy Tactics, also Valkyria Chronicles is really important to me, and also to Hunter Howe, the creative director. We wanted to bring key elements of those games over into this space, where it can combine with CCGs and be really readable and having a sort of repeatable match aspect to it, but also maintain a little more of that tactics flavor than we’ve seen before through those elements.

GameSpace: Can you share with us a cool experience you’ve had happen in the game?

Caleb:  The least favorite thing that happens to me is having my opponent setting up traps and then pulling me across the map into those traps. There are a couple of different cards, and unfortunately I think those cards got cut from our launch content, but there’s a card called Slag Bomb that creates a little explosive tile, and you can pull your enemy onto that tile and have it explode and do eight damage.

But there are other things that you can do via this card called Prism Dancer, that creates intraversible terrain. It basically, it’s part of our blue faction, which is Fatekeepers, they manipulate time and space, and they’re our control faction. They can create these impassable parts of the terrain for a turn or so, and basically you can get trapped. I was going super aggressive against Dibs, our content designer, his actual name is Dan Gibson, but everyone calls him Dibs. I just got trapped. My units got walled off behind me and just my hero, Mori, was left by herself.

shardbound key art

There’s really fun strategies that you can come up with. I’m a big fan of this unit called Tiny, he’ll probably have another name that’s not a DoTA character at some point, but every time you create or destroy a boulder, he gets a buff. So you can go around wreaking havoc on the landscape and making this character bigger and bigger.

One more big card that’s been really popular in our community is this card called the Denial Pillar. I was playing a match against one of our pre-alpha testers. What the Denial Pillar does, is at end of every turn, it does five damage split randomly among everything in its line of sight. You have to be really careful about your positioning when you’re playing against the Denial Pillar. I had gotten myself, I was close to winning, my opponent had two health left, and I had fifteen health, and I was like, “I’m totally fine.”

There was a Denial Pillar, and I decided to take the risk and go in and take that five damage, in order to get into a position to deal lethal. What happened is my opponent used a card called The Puppeteer, cloned that Denial Pillar twice, and I had fifteen damage staring me in the face. Now, if I had been able to stay behind cover, I would have been fine, but I had made the decision to make myself exposed, and I got blasted. But it was this really fun moment, because I wasn’t expecting all of a sudden fifteen damage coming into my face directly. It was super fun.

Kickstarter Goals for Shardbound

GameSpace: What was your goal in launching this Kickstarter campaign for Shardbound?

Caleb: The goal for the Kickstarter is to put the last couple of things together we need to, to be in a place where we can put the game on Steam Early Access. To get specific about what that means, it’s really around account progression and putting in place the mechanics by which people can earn units and be rewarded when they complete Shards. A few weeks ago we released a big rev to the Shardfall system, which is how you get loot in the game, and we’ve been testing that and feel like it’s in a really good spot. What we need to put in is a way for people to get stuff when they complete a Shard, which is basically a series of quests you can complete in order to fill up a loot box that you get to crack open once it’s fully charged.

We need to put all that in, and then add in ways for people to look at the units that they’ve gotten, and get a closer look at the 3D models, and that kind of stuff. But those are really the last two feature things we need, and then plus a bunch of back-end server scaling, and things like that, but that’s really the goal of the Kickstarter. It’s a pretty short term goal. But, looking forward, you look at the game right now, and a lot of the units have placeholder art, and need their beautiful 3D models.

Shardbound Gameplay Gif

We’ve got a ton of concept art ready to rock and roll, but we just need to, part of this Kickstarter is to fire up our art pipeline, so we can continue to pump units into the game, and make them all look awesome, and have voice acting, and sound effects, and really cool animations, and stuff like that. It’s really just, there’s some baseline functionality that we feel that we need to put in, and that’s really what the Kickstarter is focused on, and then pushing forward, it’s about making the game prettier. Making the game more of a Cadillac, more of the dream that all of us have in our heads for what it can be.

And then the last thing is, and we sort of began to hint at this with the Valentine’s Day content that we put out over the weekend. So, Dibs, our content designer, loves to come up with holiday goofs and stuff like that. He put together a really doozy this time. He put together a cooperative boss battle for both players. You start off and you’re facing off against each other, and then you send Valentines to each other, and then this team of five sailor scouts comes down and then you have to fight all them off together, and if either of you dies, both of you lose. There’s a ton of stuff we’ve set up for doing PvE content, for doing co-op content, that we feel we’ve built a framework for, and now we just need to fill it, and that’s really what we’re looking to do.

Down to the nitty gritty

GameSpace: Which platforms will Shardbound be available on? What’s your business model?

Caleb: Shardbound will be a free-to-play game. We’re still working out the details on exactly how that’s going to work. But, basically, if you check out our Kickstarter rewards, it’s all based around boxes. It’s like an a’la Overwatch style loot box system. You get a box and things can come out of it, be they units for your armies, or other things TBD, or to be named. Our lead system designer is in the process of putting together a Reddit post on our monetization plan, but it’s free-to-play, you play the game, you’ll get loot, and part of that loot will be units, our card equivalent. People will be able to earn those through play. Obviously, no purchase is required. People will be able to buy boxes as well in order to get stuff faster.

Shardfall Twitch System

As for platforms, we’ll be on PC. We’re toying around with being on mobile, but no distinct plans on that as of yet. PC only and we’re also thinking of bringing it to Mac, that wouldn’t be terribly hard for us, so we’re thinking about doing that in the near future as well.

GameSpace: How soon can players get their hands on the game?

Caleb: Now, is the answer. The game is running right now. One of the cool things about the Kickstarter is that everybody who contributes to the Kickstarter will get a key to the game. We’re working it out just how fast we’re able to do those turnarounds, but people are able to get into the game right now. There are also a bunch of people who are streaming Shardbound and streaming the game for fun, and also helping us to test out our streaming features. A lot of those folks have alpha keys that folks can grab to get in on the game, as well. There are a bunch of ways to get in and folks can play right away. It’s a super rad and fun game already, and it’s just really exciting to be able to share it with a bunch more people.

GameSpace: Thanks for taking the time!

Caleb: Totally!

And speaking of keys, the folks at Spiritwalk Games have given us 10 alpha keys to raffle off for Shardbound. All you need to do to enter to win is fill out the widget below with your e-mail address. We’ll accept entries through next Thursday, February 23. Winners will receive keys via e-mail the following day on Friday, February 24.

           

Written by
Michael began his career at the WarCry Network in 2005 as the site manager for several different WarCry fansite portals. In 2008, Michael worked for the startup magazine Massive Gamer as a columnist and online news editor. In June of 2009, Michael joined MMORPG.com as the site''s Community Manager.

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